Alfreton Town suffered a further setback to their inaugural Blue Square Bet Premier season when Braintree Town won by a single goal at the Impact Arena on Saturday.
Chib Chilaka, who made a cameo appearance for the Reds in the opening pre-sason friendly with Chesterfield, scored the solitary goal that ultimately marked the difference between the two promoted clubs.
Alfreton welcomed back defender Josh Law and striker Paul Clayton after injury, while Anton Brown passed a late fitness test following last week’s hip flexor problem sustained on Tyneside, and in the opening stages the Reds played with promise and positivity.
Clayton had to head behind a Jai Reason free-kick in the sixth minute while helping out in defence, then at the other end a slip by Ryan Peters gave Jamie Mullan a sight of goal, but the Reds’ midfielder seemed to tread on the ball.
The home contingent felt aggrieved that they had not been allowed an 11th minute lead when Chris Senior apparently converted Andy Holdsworth’s cross legally, only for the referee to spot a debatable push.
At the other end Chilaka’s cross saw Ben Wright win a 12th minute corner off the alert Leigh Franks, but six minutes later the goal threw the Reds out of their stride and there was little recurrence of that early fluency once Chilaka had swept home another Wright cross from close range.
Andy Yiadom was allowed to embark on a long central run which caused increasing anguish, but when confronted with a shooting opportunity the Braintree striker dragged his effort well wide.
A promising move in the 27th minute led to Law’s by-line cross being held by visiting keeper Nathan McDonald, then in response a diving header by Matt Paine flew over from a Wright free-kick.
Law then sent Senior away down the right but his cross into the box found no takers, then a strong run by Senior on 37 minutes petered out with a deflected cross and a weak Clayton header.
On the stroke of half-time a swift break down the right by the visitors led to Yiadom’s low angled drive being turned aside for a corner by Reds’ keeper Dan Lowson.
Five minutes into the second half a sharp turn and shot by Clayton was blocked at source by Paine from a Leigh Franks’ cross, then Senior won a corner off Adam Bailey-Dennis with Steve Brogan’s flag-kick then being headed behind by Wright.
Alfreton’s brief flurry of pressure continued with Theo Streete riding two tackles before his low drive from 20 yards was held by McDonald, then Law fired over from distance and a glancing Greg Young header from a long throw by Franks earned another corner.
Braintree responded with Reason heading against the outside of the upright from the edge of the area from a 65th minute Kenny Davis cross, then Levi Mackin tackled back decisively as Yiadom progressed into the area.
Brogan’s 74th minute cross allowed Franks to force yet another corner with a glancing header, but Franks blotted his copybook by heading wide from close range from the ensuing James Ellison flag-kick.
Wright’s powerful volley from the edge of the area flashed wide with eight minutes of the contest remaining, then Franks almost succeeded in latching on to a Brogan cross in a crowded box as McDonald came out to gather.
Nathan Jarman forged two openings late in the game after replacing Clayton, but the striker needed too many touches when put through by Franks in the 89th minute before seeing a curler held by McDonald in added time.
Sandwiched between was a header from Streete that was off target from a Franks throw, as Alfreton kept pressing for some reward right up until the final whistle.
ALFRETON: Lowson, Law, Franks, Young, Brown, Mackin, Streete, Holdsworth, Mullan (Brogan 54 mins), Clayton (Jarman 69 mins), Senior (Ellison 62 mins).
SUBS NOT USED: M.Wilson, Franklin.
ATTENDANCE: 656 (36 away)